Last summer I had one of those conversations that leaves you both intellectually drained and energized at the same time. The kind of conversation that challenges your steadfast beliefs and, at its close, leaves you feeling vulnerable and utterly exposed – and questioning everything you thought to be true. This all-encompassing discussion took place with a friend of mine who was just finishing up his Masters in Theology. He had just revealed that one of his very first assignments at the start of his graduate journey was to write his own eulogy. My eyebrows rose slightly when he went on to describe the rudiments of the assignment. Fifteen pages, double spaced, answering three surprisingly straight forward questions:
1) How have you come to be where you are today?
2) What do you believe?
3) What are you here to do?
I blinked a couple of times as I let the immensity of those questions sink in. So simple but with undeniable psychological weight. How do you some up a life so unpretentiously? As I mentally scanned the ways that I might answer them myself my friend went on to explain that while he didn’t know it at the time, this project, with his soul-grasping, life dissecting answers, was to be his final graduate defense upon completion of seminary school. I literally gulped. To say that was taking the grade two “All about Me” curriculum to a whole other level would be a gross understatement. I mean, where do you even start?
I initially set out to write this entry on a life well lived. To paint a symbolic picture of our existence and its meaning using Mark Twain’s quote: “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why”, as my guide. I wanted to share some insight from my personal journey of self-discovery. That was what I WANTED to do. What transformed this essay was such a powerful “ah ha” moment that it left me transfixed and in a mental fog for almost three days. I developed an almost permanent lump in my throat and a near constant pressure on my chest. Nothing that caused me great concern as I knew from experience that such a localized concentration of energy was essentially life just trying to get my undivided attention. A universal bitch-slap if you will.
This awakening occurred while I was helping a library patron with an author search. I still don’t know if it was something the woman verbally mentioned or if it was the words on the computer screen but out of the blue my roulette wheel of a brain stop its spinning and mentally landed on Marianne Williamson’s quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Time essentially stopped. “It’s our words” – was the thought that sprang into my head – “Our words have the power.” Like a deer standing in the lights of an oncoming car, I stood there for a moment and let this thought penetrate deeper. When you really THINK about what this means, the impact it has on each of our lives, the result is powerful beyond measure – just as Marianne preached.
Our words are what is left of us once we’re gone. I lingered around that statement for a handful of days. The dialect we’ve uttered, the phrases we’ve jotted down, the musings we’ve referenced; all these linger long after we’ve passed into the next realm of consciousness, wherever that may be. Think about it. How many times have the words of famous dead people been referenced? Authors have penned stories for hundreds of years. No doubt J.K. Rowling’s words, for example, will outlive muggle history. Her voice, her words, will still be around long after she is not. Probably the most powerful collection of words is bound within the teachings of the bible. Those words have stood the test of time – and a great deal of scrutiny. We are the only beings who have been gifted with the ability to form words. The one species on earth that has been graced with the capacity to transform primitive grunts, squeaks, and whimpers into a vernacular that has lasting emotional impact. We are the social pariahs who crave language, the stringing together of words, as a form of expressive connection.
While actions can speak louder than words, it is our words that will carry us through eternity. Yes, the unrelenting and constantly growing technological age connects us easily and quickly but it does so using our words. Letter writing, cards, and note taking (arguably even email composition) prolongs our intimate relationships with others long after we have left this earth.
Words have power, there is no denying that. Receivers of insult-filled projections from the mouths of bullies will be the first to support such a statement; as would victims of verbal and emotional abuse. Hate is easily spread through words, but so is love, so is peace, so is kindness. I want to be remembered for the words I scribbled and for the words I uttered. The realization of their impact is just hitting me now with lightning clarity. My words – your words – have power. Set them free to be your memory. Let them be the souvenirs of a life well lived.
Words are our legacy. This point was further driven home when I read The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of essays and stories written by Marina Keegan. A Yale graduate with a solid shot at a future in professional writing, Marina was killed in a car accident days after hanging up her cap and gown. Twenty-two years old and all that’s left are mental snapshots in time – and a remarkable collection of her words. This is how I want to be remembered, in black and white, by friends and family who hear my voice when they read my lifetime narrative.
Therefore I have decided, dear reader, to write my own eulogy. I of course hope it does not have to be unfolded for several more decades but it is of great importance to me that my words are left behind. Pictures are great, shared stories are inspirational, but words, for me, are what makes me (and everyone else) seem immortal.
What lasting words will you leave?